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December 15, 2011

Sanford-Burnham Scientist Receives Research Grant from Novo Nordisk

Filed under: Other Regional News — admin @ 3:40 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., December 15, 2011 – Layton Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of drug discovery at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute’s Florida campus, has been awarded a Novo Nordisk Diabetes Innovation Award, valued at $477,500 over two years. The grant will further his research into a novel protein with the potential to improve the understanding of diabetes and further the development of new treatments.

Novo Nordisk is an international healthcare company based in Denmark that is recognized as a world leader in diabetes treatment. The Novo Nordisk Diabetes Innovation Award Program was launched in 2011 to help scientists substantiate and translate early research efforts into new protein based treatment options for diabetes and obesity.

Dr. Smith’s two-year research project, titled “Biased Agonists of the Apelin Receptor as Novel Diabetes Therapies,” is one of ten awards that were selected from more than 80 proposals submitted by U.S. and Canadian research institutions.

The research involves a protein called apelin. When administered in preclinical models, apelin improves insulin sensitivity. Paradoxically, several studies have noted that apelin levels increase in states of obesity and insulin resistance. Dr. Smith’s research will provide insight as to how added apelin exerts a beneficial effect, whereas the body’s own apelin appears impotent.

“Apelin is unique in that it appears to function at the interface between the endocrine and cardiovascular systems, acting to modulate glucose uptake as well as protect and maintain cardiovascular function. Thus, apelin dysfunction may contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease in the diabetic patient,” said Dr. Smith.

Dr. Smith‘s research will explore the cellular communication networks apelin uses to stimulate glucose uptake—a process that breaks down in diabetes. Past studies have shown that different forms of apelin preferentially activate these pathways, and the apelin version that appears to mediate insulin sensitivity may not be available in states of obesity and insulin resistance. Using Sanford-Burnham’s ultra-high throughput drug screening technologies and comprehensive metabolic phenotyping resources, Dr. Smith will evaluate the ability of synthetic proteins to increase glucose uptake in preclinical models in order to identify potential new diabetes medicines.

“We have developed a collection of more than 400 apelin-like peptides. With this grant we will sift through the collection to identify those that stimulate glucose uptake more potently and with greater specificity than native apelin peptides,” said Dr. Smith.

The research will also explore apelin’s potential role as a protein-based therapy for treating type 2 diabetes, a chronic disease that affects more than 300 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

“Clearly, there is an urgent need to identify new and more effective drugs for treating diabetes,” Dr. Smith said. “This project will provide tools that can be used to fine-tune the apelin system—dialing in just the right effect to improve glucose uptake and perhaps have a benefit on cardiovascular function as well. If successful, this approach might lead to a better therapy for controlling glucose and treating the heart disease often associated with diabetes and obesity.”

About Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute

Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute is dedicated to discovering the fundamental molecular causes of disease and devising the innovative therapies of tomorrow. Sanford-Burnham, with operations in California and Florida, is one of the fastest-growing research institutes in the country. The Institute ranks among the top independent research institutions nationally for NIH grant funding and among the top organizations worldwide for its research impact. From 1999 – 2009, Sanford-Burnham ranked #1 worldwide among all types of organizations in the fields of biology and biochemistry for the impact of its research publications, defined by citations per publication, according to the Institute for Scientific Information. According to government statistics, Sanford-Burnham ranks #2 nationally among all organizations in capital efficiency of generating patents, defined by the number of patents issued per grant dollars awarded.

Sanford-Burnham utilizes a unique, collaborative approach to medical research and has established major research programs in cancer, neurodegeneration, diabetes, and infectious, inflammatory, and childhood diseases. The Institute is especially known for its world-class capabilities in stem cell research and drug discovery technologies. Sanford-Burnham is a nonprofit public benefit corporation. For more information, please visit

About Novo Nordisk

Headquartered in Denmark, Novo Nordisk is a global healthcare company with 88 years of innovation and leadership in diabetes care. The company also has leading positions within hemophilia care, growth hormone therapy and hormone replacement therapy.

For more information, please visit . More information about the Novo Nordisk Diabetes Innovation Award Program and how to apply can be found at

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